The Rabid Independent, Nonpartisan solutions, independent policy ideas

Propaganda that binds us together.

At school we all learned about the military leadership of Washington, the morality of Lincoln and the resilience of FDR. Every Presidents’ Day we can see clips of Kennedy’s and Reagan’s speech in Berlin. As time passes it’s easier to mythologize our old leaders. Jefferson becomes a genius. Teddy is rambunctious and indefatigable. Old film presents every president as well intentioned and sternly committed to leading the world, not just the United States. We are told how we ended the WWI quagmire. We saved England and France from Hitler. Our economic might destroyed the Soviet Union in the cold war.

All Americans are joined together by this history and by the mythology. Every country has a version of it. French men grow weak as they recall the glorious victories of Napoleon. England revels in stories of its benign empire. Italy lays claim to ancient Rome and Russia swoons over Peter The Great. Socialists, communists, and fascists are all united by these stories. A limousine liberal in Manhattan has the same ingrained images as the family in Duck Dynasty.

We can discuss how twisted the truth is from the history in our heads but the video snippets linger. It’s as though the nobility of FDR proves that we have a superior system with exceptional people so we too can be exceptional. All of this history provides us with a sort of How to Behave if You’re President guidebook. We have so many examples to work with that we can’t help but construct a model President with regard to demeanor, maturity, and placability. These are the men who kept it together while the world or the country struggled.

Half the country has now selected a President who plainly chooses to not behave presidentially. He tweets his petty grievances every day. He brags and insults. He calls Democratic senators “clowns” and concerns himself with the ratings of his TV show replacement.   What I am confounded by is how his voters reconcile this behavior with past presidential behavior they have ingrained in their memories. If they accept him as a good change then they must reject the nature of all his predecessors. Can people suddenly look at the Ich bin ein Berliner speech as embarrassing, – delivered by a philandering liberal who should have been home, cutting taxes?

This is akin to suddenly rejecting your birth religion because someone you liked called Jesus, Mohammed or Moses an idiot. You have to abandon everything you were taught in bible school in one fell swoop. I think it’s more likely that Trump voters believe his behavior is temporary and once he is in office he will conform to historical norms.

If he doesn’t then either:

  • their (our) memories of his predecessors will destroy his popularity or
  • cognitive dissonance will kill their love and belief in our old Presidents and the office itself.

Can you please stop saying this?

Sometimes if you repeat something enough, everyone accepts it as the truth. “Obamacare is a disaster” for example. Really? How does insuring 30 million new people represent failure? If rates have gone up elsewhere because Congress failed to fund the program then that’s not the fault of the program. Here are a few more of my favorites:

Illegal Immigration is no longer an issue – after all, border crossings from Mexico have dropped to zero.

Yes, border crossing are down but does that mean that illegal immigration has declined? What if people are simply flying in as tourists and never leaving? Here’s some data from the Migration Policy Institute:

immigrants-to-us

The sum of all F1, H1B, and E8 visas granted has grown from 250,000 to 700,000 since 1992. The average is about 400,000 compared to total immigration of approximately 1 million/year. The popular revolt against massive immigration is not based on mythology. The data supports the populist argument that at the low end of the pay scale job competition is growing enormously by virtue of illegal immigration. Building a wall will not fix the problem.

Manufacturing plants will never be built in, or return to, the United States.

The New York Times did an excellent feature on the huge list of subsidies China offers to Foxconn so it can make and export iPhones. Is it unreasonable to believe that we can compete on an even playing field? US workers rank third in global productivity behind Luxembourg and Norway which are not exactly normal cases. We are three times more productive that Mexican workers for example. Comparisons to Chinese workers is hard because the data includes parts that are outsourced and local subsidies such as the ones mentioned by the NY Times. The reality is that manufacturing plants are being opened (and closed) all the time in the United States. I don’t expect a new iPhone plant in the US to look anything like its Chinese counterpart. Automation would be a much bigger component but higher wage jobs would be created as would jobs for security guards, sanitation workers, and hair cutters. Did I mention that R&D follows plant location?

The question we must ask is what would an iPhone cost without all those subsidies? We must have an industrial strategy to beat those foreign mercantilists who are already doing everything they can to destroy our industrial base. Then we can compare costs.

Israel is one of our closest allies.

What does it mean to be a close ally exactly? Israel advocated for our invasion of Iran. It chose to talk to the political opposition rather than President Obama. Does it support our diplomatic efforts in the Middle East?  Israel says that simply being a democracy is enough to earn love and everlasting aid. Is it? Being a close ally means doing something for us that does not help them or may be contrary to their interests. I seem to have missed those actions. Maybe they just have a terrible (American)  public relations department. Maybe there’s no such thing as close allies in such a Realpolitik world.

Germany needs Muslim immigrants since they have no population growth.

This is repeated right after it is mentioned that allowing in oceans of people from Syria and Eritrea was an act of mercy. Yes Germany has a very old population but are there no unemployed people in the Balkans or Spain? Wouldn’t it be easier to provide German lessons to Italians than to illiterate Syrians? What would it cost Germany to go on a worker hunt among the PIIGS where they offered transportation, subsidized housing, worker training and language courses? I’m sure it would be less than what they will pay to inhale a vast collection of Eritreans and Afghani’s. Did I mention that the unemployment rate in the PIIGS for 20-30 year-olds is above 25%? Bringing in culturally insoluble people to lower your average age is a multi-generational error.

 

 

 

The Death of Capitalism

The last time capitalism was under attack was during the Great Depression. Without proper bank regulation and government stabilizers like unemployment insurance, people began to question its efficacy. Postwar growth ended the conversation. The failure of the Soviet Union discredited Marxism. It is hard to see central planning as a viable alternative to free markets. It’s not so hard to see an economy with more government involvement. The major death blow to capitalism is globalism. We were told that it would deliver four things

  1. Additional foreign capital for investment
  2. Additional technology and innovation
  3. Additional consumers to buy (our) goods
  4. Additional workers to produce all these new things.

All we got was #4.  It turns out we didn’t really need more capital. We have more than enough available to us through our own capital markets. New technology and innovation seem to largely come from Silicon Valley rather than from Shanghai Or Mumbai.  All the new consumers turned out to have virtually no money [relatively speaking] so they couldn’t afford to buy anything that was made in America. That left us with all those additional workers who were eager to make goods for us –  at a much lower wage.

If you add new capacity with new workers but no new demand then there is no reason to invest in new plant and equipment, especially in the United States [or any other developed  country] . Excess corporate cash is used instead to either buy out competitors or to buy back stock.  The result is an ever greater amount of concentration in virtually every industry in the United States from energy to finance.

Every economics textbook has been rendered quaint. How do professors discuss “perfect competition” when there is none. How do they discuss free trade when none of it is free? The rise of populism and the growing absurdity of policies born from theoretical economics is not just a coincidence.

If Thomas Friedman is right and there is no going back then we shall descend into one common global living standard. There will be no difference between a laborer’s standard of living in Delhi and that of a worker in London or Cincinnati. Education will add less value over time as robotics renders it pointless. Owners of capital will roam the earth avoiding taxes like golden Gods. All the luxury condos in Dubai will sell out.

It turns out that globalism ate away at the ability of a state to control the  excesses of capitalism. Worker protections, pollution limits, and minimum wages are only possible if we reconstruct state sovereignty. That’s possible with protectionism and isolationism. Western populist movements seem to have stumbled on these policies without seeing the wicked invisible pile of unwritten import restrictions on Chinese imports, and the absurdity of the Ricardian trade model. They are lashing out and liberals feel their pain but defend their targets. Every tortured liberal economist who celebrates the rise of China also  laments the horrible job prospects of his children. They must pick a side.

Adam Smith knew all about the flaws of capitalism. The current crop of defenders sound more like plutocrat sycophants. Everyone knows it has major problems but few seem willing to accept the obvious cures. Must the populist revolts from below become violent before our policy makers accept that changes need to be made? The people of Europe seem to understand that the Euro is a failure better than their governments. Rural Tennessee voters understand that trade with China is deleterious while the entire Democratic party has its head in the sand. We have allowed the idea that “capitalism is a perfect model”  to spread because we love the theoretical model.

Unfortunately the model and our reality are completely unrelated.

Is it honorable to serve?

We have watched a parade of candidates prostrate themselves before our future king, desperate to get a position in the new court. When the more normal or decent among them is asked how they feel about working for a person they openly denounced, they tell us they must think of their country first. ” It’s the honorable thing to do.” Is it?

This is rather easy to resolve. What if the worst moron or tyrant were elected? Should we try to get involved to offset his malevolence? Let’s say we succeed in our little area. Perhaps we provide good economic advice or we help foster a new diplomatic relationship with a former enemy. The credit for all that would go to the tyrant and would help him achieve his other malevolent goals. Great, the economy is humming along. Now he can give tax breaks to friendly billionaires or spend the money on bombs. If we negotiate a new peace with country A, he can invade country B with less or no risk.

Who remembers Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s economic minister? He performed something of a miracle by stabilizing the disastrous economy after a brutal case of hyperinflation. The rest of the world was in the midst of the Great Depression. Wow. All this work facilitated the rearming of the country. Schacht served the people well and the tyrant benefited.

Would the Vietnam war have continued if everyone in Johnson’s cabinet who knew about the scam in the Gulf of Tonkin had resigned? What if Colin Powell had resigned and admitted he had been conned by the CIA and made to lie by the administration? Did he help his country by staying the course?

The worst excuse is to argue that someone else will do it if you don’t. Let some other corrupt sycophant take the job. His failure means the tyrant will fail faster.In the end the new king won’t thank you anyway. He thinks every win is his work. Did Colin Powell retire with dignity? Did Robert McNamara?

In the end good people will never change or improve the idiot king. They are far more likely to be dragged down by him.

What Did Voters Vote for?

When I grew up in the ’70’s it seemed like everyone listened to the same music. There were different genres like Motown, Disco, and Rock but it was rare that someone you knew only listened to one. Most stations played a mix so you heard both Springsteen and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Up to the mid ’80’s the situation changed little as Journey and Michael Jackson coexisted, appealing to all (young) demographic groups. 

In the 90’s this situation changed as baby boomers went off on their own and classic stations boomed. Teeny-pop took off side by side with Rap and the audiences separated. Watching the Grammy’s became harder and harder as each faction would have to sit through some award or performance that they couldn’t stand. The internet made these divisions even greater.   

I feel that the same dynamic has occurred in politics. After the death of the Soviet Union we lost a common thread between our two parties that made them cooperate. War or the threat of war used to unite southern racists with northeaster liberals. Now that globalization has broken the rather solid record of capitalism, everything is on the table. We can make a good case for tax cuts and tax increases. One can argue reasonably for more and for less government. Isolationism has returned to the menu.

The parties can’t keep up. Is the Republican Party in favor of more or less trade? Does it want giant tax cuts for all or is it the party of fiscal austerity? Is the Democratic Party progressive as in Bernie Sanders or pro status quo as in Hillary Clinton?

As the economic ideologies crack and creeping liberalism takes over issues like drug legalization and gay marriage, two parties can never articulate the myriad of views held by each member or party. The Republicans, by accident, solved this by choosing a candidate who stood for a host of contradicting positions. As a populist he stood against trade and for deportations. As a Republican billionaire he loves trade and cheap labor for big business. 

We are left to wonder what the nature of the next government will look like. Will it have a Rick Santorum, Christian right theme? Will Trump invade Syria or pretend it does’t exist. He could come out for giant tax cuts or for fiscal austerity. Whatever he chooses there will be support from some corner of the party because it has so many factions.   

We need more parties.

If we did, we could split the Dems into a centrist wing and a Bernie Green Party wing. The Repubs would become at least three parties: Libertarians, big defense, corporate tax cutting foreign interventionists, and populist isolationists who want to build walls and raise tariffs.

If we had a number of parties they would be forced to build coalitions to pass bills. Yes it would be hard to find agreement but it can’t be any worse than it is now. The other thing it would solve is the chance that one wing wins an election and the other wing reads that as a win for them. As of now Paul Ryan can see this Trump win as a victory that grants him the right to take apart Medicare. He has enough votes in both houses to get a lot of his crazy agenda passed. Is that what the people voted for? 

There would be chaos, you say. We would have a government like Italy or Israel. The more probable outcome is that we would have only a few parties and each would have normal relationships that would create coalitions (as in the UK). The Greens and the socialistic Liberals would come together to pass legislation. The difference would be that there would be no doubt as to who won the most votes, so we would know who had the upper hand.  

As of now we don’t know what wing of the Republican party is in control. In some ways it seems that they all do. Our new Attorney General is a religious nut who may start arresting weed dispensers for drug trafficking. All our new generals may start invading the Middle East or our own homes. We could see giant new tax cuts tabled at the same time as a government shutdown occurs to protest new spending.

Everyone is asking the same question – What does the Trump victory mean, in terms of policy? The answer will not be: A consistent set of new initiatives to promote the populist rhetoric of his campaign. It’s far more likely to be a grab bag of ideas from all corners of his party. So many people with different agendas are now in the mix there’s almost no way for Trump to control them. It’s a smackdown –  Priebus verses Bannon. By having no consistent theme to his cabinet choices or advisers Trump has already lost control. 

Let the chaos begin. 

Effete Liberals and Our Biased Media.

It is a common style of humor to describe “liberals” as overrefined, enfeebled, spoiled. They spend all their free time in Whole Foods buying Kale. They attend the ballet and listen to NPR while reading the New York Times. There used to be a term for such people – limousine liberals. The caricatures we made of those hypocrites has taken over the entire voting group. African Americans are almost entirely “liberal” but I don’t think we would characterize them as ballet loving or addicted to NPR. Somehow it became popular to presume that the value system of a liberal could only be held by relatively wealthy, white, coastal, highly educated people.

liberals

Is this the result of the takeover of the Democratic Party by the Clintons? What about Bernie Sanders? Does he spend his time in Whole Foods buying kale?  The caricature seems to have arrived at precisely the time when progressives have lost touch with their normal constituency – the working class. In this regard they have become much like the frequently mocked limousine liberals of the 20th century (FDR et al). They have allowed their appeal or message to become very narrow. It will be easy to tell going forward who can revive the party: look for the person who expands his/her appeal to include rural people and the working poor, and not by offering a few meager carrots but by actually being comfortable with that constituency. Elections cannot be won by discussing the plight of minorities ad infinitum.

Our Biased Media

I have been listening to a lot of indictments of the main stream media by people who want to sound unbiased. I think it’s fair to say that very few people in the Democratic Party look upon CNN as terribly biased. So what these radio personalities and bloggers are really doing is making the Trump voter case. Is that fair?

If I were at CNN and my first task was to relate his various statements to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women, it would be hard for me not to comment about how outrageous and inappropriate the comments were. Would that make me biased? I probably wouldn’t have to say anything.

My next job was to report on Mr. Trump’s thoughts about torture where he said he would seek to “broaden” the laws to allow torture, including but not limited to waterboarding – so he would abandon the Geneva convention and therefore the US Constitution. If I editorialized by saying that such a policy would be illegal then I would be accused of being biased again.

Aside from saying that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese [?], he also said this: “It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming!” If I were to suggest that his views on global warming were rather uninformed, then I would once again be accused of bias.

We can have a reasonable discussion about whether CNN and CBS [for example] were biased in 2012 when they discussed the speeches and policies of Romney and Obama. When the statements of a candidate are so extreme, contradictory and outrageous that no bias is needed to see to expose them then the accusation no longer holds. The media may have wanted to be biased but they didn’t need to be. Trump’s behavior was so inappropriate, they had only to repeat his words. If you don’t like them, that’s on you, not the mainstream media.

We could probably say that this was the most unbiased media, during an election, that we have seen in some time.

 

 

Citizens of the world – Burn shoes!

Does it make you happy to know that a foreigner living in a third world country has been brought out of poverty by virtue of a trade deal with the US? Does it matter to you that they did so by firing US workers? If you don’t care about your neighbor (he can find another job or go back to school) then you have passed the first Clinton test of political tone deafness. You will never win back the middle class nor do you deserve to.

Does it warm your heart to know that allowing in an illegal immigrant has provided a job and a better life to an impoverished foreigner regardless of whether it is at the expense of a domestic worker? If your answer is yes then you have passed the second Clinton test of political tone deafness.

Do you believe that Islam is a religion of peace and that it is utterly disconnected from global terrorism? Are you happy with its tenets regarding women, apostates, and homosexuals, so much so that you are completely indifferent to whether new immigrants are Muslim or atheists? If you answered Yes then you have passed the third Clinton test for (stupidity) and political tone deafness.

If you answered yes to all three questions then – congratulations, you are a citizen of the world, not a citizen of the US. You take pride in all the new skyscrapers in Beijing and look upon your neighbor with complete indifference. You love new trade deals and trust every Muslim immigrant – how dare they do onerous background checks on these poor people? Your mentality prevents you from seeing that a company that employs only Americans is evil (New Balance) . One that outsources to 3rd world countries – hiring children and paying slave wages is your champion (Nike).  I hope you are happy living in the political wilderness.

 

http://www.wsj.com/video/new-balance-sparks-social-media-backlash/09AB650C-6891-4A05-A7E9-FE11FFB1CBF3.html

Trump may not be the guy to worry about.

Now that we have Trump we also have a completely Republican Congress. Every bill originates in the House of Representatives, not in the White House. They will begin to produce laws by the bucketload because they know that there are almost no impediments to getting them passed. They can repeal Dodd Frank, repeal ObamaCare, destroy the EPA and any clean energy incentives.

I watched Hillary’s goodbye speech, Obama’s transition speech, Trump’s victory speech, and Paul Ryan’s celebratory jig. I am utterly freaked out by Ryan. He was gleeful at the new power of the Republican congress and drooling over the immediate destruction of Obamacare (to start with). He referred to it as the one thing that every American abhors. Really? Does that include the 20 million people who got insurance through exchanges? What about the part of it that protects people with preexisting conditions? He also can’t wait to wreck  Medicare. This is a malevolent moron who read Atlas Shrugged and actually believes it has merit?!

Trump won this election by virtue of being an outsider – not a Congressman. Now he must decide if he wants to stick to the set of policies he advocated on the campaign trail or throw in his lot with the evil Congressional Repubs. On many issues they are diametrically opposed. Those disenfranchised old white people need more healthcare not less. They want less trade not more but the Congressional Repubs want more. (Republicans love “free trade”) The base hates Wall Street so Dodd Frank makes sense since it weakens Wall Street. Paul Ryan hates Dodd Frank. The small government obsession of Ryan and his band of nutjobs is not the agenda of lower middle class underemployed  white people. Unless Trump gets ahead of Ryan he will start to receive bills requiring his signature. It will be awfully tempting to sign away.

As President Obama pointed out, the election was going to determine if any of his policies will endure. Republicans can now go about dismantling every single bill, treaty, and program that Obama got passed. Normally a retired President gets to relax a little, make a few speeches, do some charity work, read a book. Barack Obama is a spectacular public speaker with a huge constituency. If he wants to have any legacy at all he has to hit the road and galvanize support to stop Congress and/or Trump from destroying everything he has done.

Obama’s New Role

He could/must set up demonstrations by people who are about to lose their healthcare if/when Obamacare gets repealed. The numbers could be huge. He should also point out that they want to kill Medicare too. That will bring out an ocean of old people. It’s time someone got those people riled up against conservatism. Healthcare is a perfect wedge issue. He could put fear into everyone about their water supply if the EPA is destroyed. He could scare people about Iranian nukes if the Iranian inspections are cancelled. He could scare Hispanics about mass deportations. There are so many huge constituencies that could be energized, and he is just the guy to do it. He could ask Bernie to help out.

If he doesn’t then Paul Ryan will wipe him from history.

The Clash of the Weaklings

In 1976 we were offered two horrible candidates – a Nixon apologist and a slow talking peanut farmer. In a debate, President Ford famously said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Carter countered by butchering an interview with Playboy magazine. Ford was the status quo guy who would preserve the Nixon administration’s imperial presidency and Carter was the outsider, fighting for change. They flaccidly limped toward the finish line. No matter who won it was easy to argue that neither would win a second term.

I won’t go over the flaws of our two candidates at this time but what’s clear is that neither has a prayer of winning a second term. Trump would do well to not be impeached but the biggest problem is that changing the stats quo is hard. There are too many vested interests and he has no support within his own party in Congress. This was the problem Jimmy Carter had. In the next campaign he had no story to tell about changing the system.

Hillary on the other hand likes the Obama world so she will certainly have nothing to show off in a new campaign. She will be so hated and ineffectual that any Republican candidate (not named Trump) could defeat her in 2020. It has been argued (by Andrew Sullivan among others) that the Clintons have told all other Dems to stay away from running for the nomination but after four years it will be awfully tempting. If Bernie were ten years younger…

We will undoubtedly get another Republican “outsider”, a statist Republican, and a lost Democrat who has no ideas at all since the party has sold it’s soul to nutbars who love open borders, free trade, and unlimited budget deficits. The party system is failing and the media wants to keep it intact. The media will win and we shall shuffle into a permanent political quagmire until some dramatic international event re-empowers the Presidency.

Until then we can look forward to – Ted Cruz verses anyone-but-Hillary in 2020.

 

Fair and Unbalanced

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